President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of Sri Lanka have announced they will step down, as have a handful of ministers.
But two days after those announcements, no one has resigned yet — and Sri Lanka’s divided political fraternity continues to struggle to unite for an orderly transition to a functioning national unity government. It was previously announced that the president would step down on July 13.
What does the Sri Lankan Constitution say about succession?
Pursuant to Article 40 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka, if the post of President becomes vacant before the end of the five-year term, the Parliament must elect one of its members as President. The successor will remain in office for the remainder of the vacant President’s term.
This election must be held within one month after the vacancy arises. The election is by secret ballot, and the candidate must win an absolute majority.
Between the vacancy that arises and the inauguration of the new President, the Prime Minister will act as President-in-Office and appoint a minister from his cabinet to perform the functions of Prime Minister. If the prime minister’s office is vacant, the president will act as acting president.
So what does this provision mean in the current situation?
This means that if Wickremesinghe is still prime minister when – and if – President Rajapaksa steps down, he will be able to function as president, at least until Parliament elects a new president. It could also give him an edge in the subsequent election in Parliament for the new president.
That may partly explain the limbo in Colombo, where the prime minister and several ministers play a waiting game while the president, who no longer has the support of the people who elected him less than three years ago, keeps the country on hold. .
It also explains the insistence at Saturday’s all-party conference that both Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa must step down before an interim national government can be formed.
And where does the Speaker come into all this?
The opposition party with the most MPs, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), led by Sajith Premadasa, is strongly against Wickremesinghe’s continuation in any office. Premadasa left Wickremesinghe’s UNP ahead of the 2020 parliamentary elections to form the SJB, ensuring that Sri Lanka’s “big old party” did not win any seats.
According to the chronology provided by the all-party conference, after the two main resignations (President and PM), President Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena would convene Parliament for the election of a new President, and serve as President on an interim basis.
But if Wickremesinghe steps down before Rajapaksa does, Abeywardena, a loyalist to Rajapaksa, steps in as interim president. It could also break efforts to form an all-party government.
Where exactly are things then?
Concurrent statements by the Prime Minister’s Office, the President and opposition leader Premadasa on Monday (July 11) shed light on the intense dispute between the various camps. On Monday morning, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying the president had informed the prime minister “that he will resign as previously announced”.
Within hours, the Presidential Secretariat issued a statement saying that all messages issued by President Rajapaksa “will be released by the President after the information is given to him by the President. Therefore…only announcements issued by the President shall be considered official announcements by the President”.
Late in the afternoon, Premadasa also issued a statement, announcing that he was ready to “lead the country’s stabilization program and build the country’s economy.”
In a statement released by Newsfirst Lanka, Premadasa said that “the president, prime minister and government of the SLPP have lost the mandate” of the people and that there was “no alternative solution other than the appointment of the government led by a new president and the Prime Minister”. He also warned that if “anyone opposes this or resorts to a subversive act of Parliament, it will be considered an act of treason”.